Bees and Sunbeams

Little Gestalten is the recently formed children’s imprint of the Berlin-based art book publisher Gestalten. (Find reviews of earlier Gestalten titles here.) Since 2014, the house has pushed the envelope with unexpected stories and showstopping art, and in the coming years will likely become a greater voice in the world of picture books. The Honey Hunter, written by Karthika Naϊr and illustrated by Joёlle Jolivet ($24.95, 52 pages), is a bold example of Little Gestalten’s offerings. Originally a play, the story was converted into book form and published simultaneously in English and French (Le Tigre de Miel). This modern Indian folk tale begins in the peaceful land of the Sundarban, where people coexist happily with the world around them, until the seasons change for the worse, and there is no food. Little Shonu and his family go hungry, and the boy’s father refuses to take honey from the bees because doing so would undo the natural balance. One day when the roar of the boy’s stomach outweighs his sense of reason, Shonu disappears into the forest, finding honey but also angering a demon tiger who preserves the fragile ecosystem. At 52 pages, The Honey Hunter is longer than the standard 32 or 40 page spreads, and there’s a lot going on in the story, including global warming, deforestation, poverty, and religion. At times it’s just too much for a young reader to follow. (These elements probably worked much better and more smoothly on stage, where thoughts could be transcribed through action and set design.) A few small spelling errors mar the text as well. However, the art is fantastic, and the images above don’t do them justice. Jolivet’s linocut prints are rendered in brilliant neons offset by forms outlined in inky black, and are a wonderful example of work by this winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt Jeunesse. Hot pink, psychedelic purple and oozing gold take center stage here. Where the text lagged, I found myself abridging much of the story and taking cues from the art on the page, and I think many readers will do the same. Consider this book for the stunning linocuts and recreate the tale in your own words. It will be sweet. 

Puss in Boots, by Charles Perrault, illustrated by Clementine Sourdais; Little Gestalten, $16.95, 32 pages, all ages.

Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, illustrated by Clementine Sourdais; Little Gestalten, $16.95, 32 pages, all ages.

Just as every generation reinvents Shakespeare to suit its own needs, we also reimagine classic fairytales. Here, the beloved tales of “Puss in Boots” and “Little Red Riding Hood” are accompanied by the intricate cut-paper illustrations of French artist Clementine Sourdais. Designed to be read like a traditional book, the cutouts on each page fold onto each other, creating a complex masterpiece visible from both the front and back boards. Sourdais employs a spare color palette of black and white, plus an accent color – blood red for “Little Red Riding Hood” and regal yellow in “Puss in Boots.” When opened accordion style, each image is full of vibrant detail. Another surprise awaits readers if they take a flashlight to the books and project the pictures of wolves, cats and wayward little girls onto a wall.  These tiny, charming treasures – each volume measures a dainty 5.5 inches by 6 inches – breathe new life into stories almost two centuries old and will delight young readers and pop-up collectors alike.

Alphabetics: An Aesthetically Awesome Alliterated Alphabet Anthology, by Patrick and Traci Concepción, illustrated by Dawid Ryski; Little Gestalten, $16.95, 64 pages, 3-7. (September 2014)

Logophiles, rejoice! As the title suggests, this alphabet book is a series of twenty-six alliterative entries accompanied by illustrations by graphic artist Dawid Ryski, whose structured renderings of astronauts, quails and yuppie Yetis feel at once retro and hip.  Husband and wife design team Patrick and Traci Concepción created such sophisticated little ditties that younger readers may find themselves scratching their heads at words like ‘hellacious’ and ‘gambol.’ Luckily, the authors included a handy glossary. This book is one that parents and children will enjoy, and would make an excellent present to young, hipster parents, design aficionados, and wordsmiths alike.